Ayten Gundogdu

Associate Professor of Political Science

Political Theory

Ayten Gündoğdu, associate professor of political science, joined Barnard’s faculty in 2008.  At Barnard she teaches courses on political theory and human rights.

Professor Gündoğdu’s research addresses problems related to human rights, migration, sovereignty, and personhood by drawing on the resources of modern and contemporary European political theory, the political thought of Hannah Arendt, critical human rights studies, and international political and legal theory. Her research has been shaped by two main goals: First, understanding how universalistic discourses of rights can leave some subjects (e.g., asylum-seekers) in a vulnerable condition with very tenuous guarantees for fundamental rights (e.g., the right to be free from indefinite detention); and second, rethinking key political concepts such as human rights, sovereignty, territoriality, and personhood in light of the struggles waged by these subjects at the margins of law and politics.

These goals are reflected in Professor Gündoğdu’s book, Rightlessness in an Age of Rights (Oxford University Press, 2015), which offers a critical inquiry of human rights by engaging with the works of twentieth-century political theorist Hannah Arendt and by examining the contemporary rights struggles of asylum-seekers, refugees, and undocumented immigrants. The book presents new readings of Arendt’s key concepts (e.g., “the social,” “the right to have rights”) by rethinking them within the context of immigration detention, deportation, refugee camps, and struggles for regularization.

Professor Gündoğdu is currently at work on her second book manuscript, tentatively titled “Between the Human and the Person: A Critical Inquiry into the Subject of Rights.” The project questions the widely shared assumptions about “personhood”—i.e., that it is a distinctively human status grounded in an intrinsic human characteristic such as sanctity, dignity, reason, or autonomy. These assumptions map personhood neatly onto humanness, rely on a questionable human/nonhuman divide, and get in the way of understanding various practices that can unmake or diminish the personhood of marginalized subjects before the law. This critical analysis also strives to examine the possibilities of mobilizing law to contest the borders of personhood and reinvent the meaning of equality.

Professor Gündoğdu is the recipient of a Mellon Mid-Career Fellowship from the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University (2017-18), a postdoctoral fellowship from the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University (2011-12), and several other grants and awards from Barnard College and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.



  • Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants (Oxford University Press, 2015) Link
    • International Studies Association-Northeast, Yale H. Ferguson Award, 2016.
    • International Studies Association, Theory Section, Book Award Competition, Honorable Mention, 2015.
    • Included in the list of Choice “Outstanding Academic Titles” (January 2016). 

Articles and Book Chapters

  • “Disagreeing with Rancière: Speech, Violence, and the Ambiguous Subjects of Politics,” Polity, vol. 49, no. 2 (April 2017): 188–219 (Access online). 
  • “A Revolution in Rights: Reflections on the Democratic Invention of the Rights of Man,” Law, Culture and the Humanities, vol. 10, no. 3 (October 2014): 367-379 (Access online)
  • “Statelessness and the Right to Have Rights.” In Hannah Arendt: Key Concepts, ed. Patrick Hayden (Acumen Publishing, 2014) Link
  • “Potentialities of Human Rights: Agamben and the Narrative of Fated Necessity,” Contemporary Political Theory, vol. 11, no. 1 (February 2012): 2-22 (Access online)
    • For a longer version, see: “Potentialities of Second Nature: Agamben on Human Rights.” In Second Nature: Rethinking the Natural Through Politics, ed. Lida Maxwell, Laura Ephraim, and Crina Archer (Fordham University Press, 2013), pp. 104-126. Link
  • ‘Perplexities of the Rights of Man’: Arendt on the Aporias of Human Rights,European Journal of Political Theory, vol. 11, no. 1 (January 2012): 4-24 (Access online)
    • Reprinted in The Aporia of Rights: Explorations in Citizenship in the Era of Human Rights, ed. Anna Yeatman and Peg Birmingham (Bloomsbury, 2014) Link
  • “Arendt on Culture and Imperialism: Response to Klausen,” Political Theory, vol. 39, no. 5 (October 2011): 661-667 (Access online)
  • [Co-authored with Raymond D. Duvall and Kartik Raj] “Borders, Power and Resistance: Bounding and Challenging Europe." In Europe and Its Boundaries, ed. Andrew Davison and Himadeep Muppidi (Lexington Books, 2009), pp. 225-241. Link
Academic Focus: 
  • Human rights, humanitarianism, and international ethics
  • Political theory of Hannah Arendt
  • Politics and ethics of migration
  • Cosmopolitanism and its critics
  • Modern, contemporary, and continental political theory
  • Democratic theory and theories of citizenship

You can find selected syllabi on-line.

  • POLS UN 1101 Political Theory
  • POLS BC 3410 Colloquium on Human Rights in a Diverse World (Cross-listed by the Human Rights Program, Barnard College)
  • POLS BC 3435 Colloquium on Law and Violence
  • POLS BC 3761 Senior Research Seminar in Political Theory
  • FYSB BC 1289 First-Year Seminar: Violence and Justice
  • POLS W 3002 Human Rights and Immigration
  • POLS UN 4150 Crisis and Critique: The Frankfurt School (Cross-listed by the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University)
Presentations / Recent Lectures: 
  • “The Nonhuman Condition: Arendt’s Phenomenology of Living Beings,” American Political Science Association (San Francisco, California, August 31-September 3, 2017). 
  • “Between the Human and the Person: A Critical Inquiry into the Subject of Rights.” Political Theory Colloquium, University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia, December 2, 2016).
  • “Declarations of a Right to Have Rights.” Workshop on Transformations of Civil Disobedience, Barnard College-Columbia University (New York, May 7-8, 2016).
  • “On the Right to Have Rights: Migrant Deaths and the Question of Personhood.” Conference on the EU Refugee Crisis and the Future of Europe, Columbia University (April 1, 2016).
  • “Accident/Person.” Workshop: What is a Refugee Crisis? The Cogut Center for the Humanities and Modern Culture and Media Department, Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island, March 11, 2016).

Updated on January, 2015 by Anne Wolff-Lawson



Tel 212.854.4036
Fax 212.854.3024

Office Hours: 

LeFrak 234 -- On Leave in 2017-18



Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Twin Cities


B.A., Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey

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